California Legislature paid for playing hooky

Columnist Amira Dabbas

Columnist Amira Dabbas

Imagine a job where you get paid even when you don’t show up for work. A job where you can get meals and living expenses paid for when your career requires you to travel, but you don’t have to actually go to your job.
A job with perks like this might be where you would least expect it. California legislatures collect thousands of dollars on top of their annual salary, even when they don’t show up to work on days they are supposed to.
Per diem is a Latin term which means “per day” or “for each day.” This is also used as a term to describe a daily allowance a company provides for its employees that covers meals, travel and living expenses for an individual while working.
Many companies offer this type of allowance, but usually the employee is actually working while receiving this allowance.
However, this isn’t the case for California’s lawmakers when they visit Sacramento. Along with their six-figure salaries, they receive this per diem allowance when they travel to Sacramento to write and pass bills. However, California, unlike other states, allows these lawmakers to collect this allowance even if they aren’t present in the Capitol.
An estimated 325 days were taken off during the past legislative session. A review by the Associated Press found during these days off the lawmakers earned collectively about $56,000 in taxpayer-funded living expenses. These lawmakers are getting paid whether or not they show up to work, and the funding for it is coming directly out of our pockets.
Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was technically allowed to take unlimited time off, collecting $176 per day, tax free. He took 24 sick days claiming to have had high blood pressure, and over the days collected $4,168 in per diem. He apparently had no intention to waive this allowance.

assembly.ca.gov

assembly.ca.gov

“My landlord in Sacramento didn’t consider waiving my rent,” Hernandez said.
This is a flaw in the system. Why should we be turning a blind eye and throwing our tax dollars into a money pit that essentially pays lawmakers to play hooky?
Former President of the Center for Governmental Studies Robert Stern said that for lawmakers, per diem is just an extension to their six-figure income. “They don’t feel they get enough salary,” he said.
The big question is, why are we letting this happen? What policies are being put into place to avoid situations like this? In some states, there is a type of roll call where a head count is necessary in order for the lawmaker to receive their allowance.
In Maryland lawmakers are required to submit food receipts. There must be a system in California where individuals in legislation are held accountable for something as trivial as their attendance.